Category Archives: Westlaw

Copyright Lawsuit Against Westlaw and LexisNexis

Westlaw and LexisNexis have been publishing publicly filed legal briefs and motions, and charging their subscription users to access them online, for years.  Two attorneys, Oklahoma lawyer Edward White and New York city lawyer Kenneth Elan, plan to put a stop to it.   White and Elan recently filed a class action lawsuit against Westlaw and LexisNexis, claiming copyright infringement of the aforementioned legal documents.   They seek to represent both lawyers who have copyrighted their work and those who have not, and claim that the two publishing companies have engaged in “unabashed wholesale copying of thousands of copyright-protected works created by, and owned by, the attorneys and law firms who authored them.”

Read the full complaint here.

What do you think of this lawsuit?  Does it have a solid legal footing?  Or, as some have stated, do you think that the strength of the copyright claim is undermined by the fact that many legal opinions are based on other people’s arguments and analysis?

The West Digest System

One of the most often asked questions this time of year is about digests and how to use them. The digest system is designed by West Publishing. West organizes the law into over 400 subjects and assigns those subjects “topic numbers.” Within those topics are subtopics which West has assigned key numbers. It is organized like an outline, with points and sub-points. It is no more complicated than that other than how many key numbers the editors manage to include! The idea is that once you have a topic number and a key number you can access another west digest and find cases regarding the same legal subject. 

To use the digest in print, start with the “Descriptive Word Index” volumes located at the tail end of the volumes. Remember to think of keywords and synonyms. Note any topics and key numbers and then look them up in the main volumes. The main volumes are arranged alphabetically by subject and the subject alphabetical ranges (not all subjects) are on the spine of each volume. Also, remember to check the pocket parts for any updates.

The digest is also available on Westlaw. Select the “KEY NUMBERS” link on the top of any page to go directly to the key number search page.  You have 3 options. First, you can enter keywords to search for related topics and key numbers. Second, you can browse the entire outline of topics and key numbers by clicking on the “West Key Number Digest Outline”. Clicking on a key number results in a list of headnotes including KeyCite indicators with links to cases. Third, you can launch a key search. You can also easily change jurisdictions searched by using the pop-up menu on the page.Thomson-West has more information about its key number system at

You can also listen to or read a transcript of CALI”s LibTour on West’s Digests.